Improve your vocabulary: learning made easy

By: Luke Holden

Improving your vocabulary takes time and hard work, but it is definitely worth it. With the advice given in this article and a dedicated learning period of 20 minutes a day from you, a varied vocabulary will be yours in no time!

Learning lots of new words doesn't have to be boring. Find a book you are interested in, then read and understand every word you see. The tendency in a story is to pass over new words to make quick progress with the plot, but try not to do this. Instead, find out the meaning of every single word you don't know, and write them down on a separate sheet of paper with the meanings and a translation into your mother tongue. This will initially slow your reading, but after a while you will actually be able to read faster than before. Knowing more words not only enables you to understand the story at a deeper level, but also removes any doubt in your mind which can sometimes push you to re-read a section and lose that valuable time.

Other ways to spice up your vocabulary can include watching movies, listening to songs, reading stories and newspapers, singing songs, writing essays or a diary, and talking to native speakers. There is a lot of material and resources available to you in many different forms, each of which can play a very positive role in helping you to improve your word knowledge. A game which is always fun is called ‘dictionary pick.' The rules are that you and a partner both have to choose three random words from the dictionary (only those you don't know), in the morning before school or work. You must incorporate those words into conversations you will have in the day, in a natural way without explaining that it is a game. The purpose is to use the word, no matter how unusual, in the correct context and without anyone noticing. This is a fun game, because you can swap stories with your partner later in the day, and it will guarantee to help you remember those three new words. Within a week, you will then know more than twenty new words and be able to use them in their correct context.

Use a dictionary and a thesaurus. So many of my students in China know the value of a dictionary, but few have heard of a thesaurus. In the way that a dictionary tells you the meaning of a word, a thesaurus will suggest others words which have a similar meaning to the one you suggested. For example, if you looked up the word ‘happy' in a thesaurus, you are given the words ‘content, contented, pleased, glad, joyful, cheerful, in high spirits, and blissful.' All of these words are suitable substitutes for ‘happy,' and so make this an essential for the English writer trying to liven up their articles by not repeating words too much. If you want a free thesaurus there are many free online links, or you can just use the inbuilt thesaurus in Microsoft Word (select from the toolbar, or right-click on the word and select ‘synonyms').

When you know words, you will recognise many more. This is because English words have many similarities with other European languages such as their origin, pronunciation and to a certain extent, their function. So, by learning many new words, you actually make the task of learning easier in itself. This is enhanced even more so by the fact that you are stimulating the part of your brain which deals with memory, the cerebrum. However, there comes a point in your learning when you are left with those difficult and complex words which have very specific meanings. At this stage you should learn through repetitive use of the word in everyday application, essentially drilling.

So, with these techniques in your mind and dedication in your heart, you can be sure that your vocabulary will increase dramatically. Good luck and happy learning.

This article was written by Luke Holden on behalf of, the ultimate English learner's website run exclusively by English native speakers.

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Luke Holden is an experienced English teacher, living and working in Beijing. He is the proud owner of, a collection of learning resources and advice run exclusively by English native speakers

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